Civilization East of Mesopotamian Delta called Elam, Susiana, Susa, Persia in different eras.
I am conflicted as I write about western Iran and the proto-Elamite civilization which was a mighty contributor to the Neolithic Revolution in agriculture. Elam arose on the Susiana plain at the easternmost tip of the Fertile Crescent where it meets the wall of the Zagros Mountains. Some think it was a protégé, perhaps a colony, of the city of Uruk. My unrest arises when I compare the priceless contributions once produced in the land of the Fertile Crescent now occupied by the modern states of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt to the lack of contributions from their subsequent ruling regimes up to the present. If I add the countries in the Arabian peninsula and Pakistan to these, all I see in recent millennia is internecine and global religious warfare. Given that this region was a crossroads for commerce between East and West for millennia, ambitious foreign nations fought there among themselves and with the indigenous nations–all seeking a piece of the then crucial geography, and later, oil. We all are aware of this never-ending story, as in recent decades, Middle-Eastern religious zealots once again attack the West and East.
Five millennia ago, the Susiana plain was the meeting ground between the agricultural Uruk civilization to the west and the pastoral Indo-Iranians approaching from the Zagros mountains to their east. Violence was inescapable at this frontier between these contrasting people groups, just as we suspect there was violence in the Indus Valley when these same Indo-Iranian herdsmen migrated into the Harappan culture.
Perhaps I credit these ancient pioneers too much for picking low-hanging fruit. The key to the chain of future developments was the first development: systematic agriculture. The growing surplus of food freed up manpower and triggered the inherent creativity of man to take it from there—until he outran his growing food supply and encountered major adverse changes in weather patterns and rapidly spreading plagues.
So, we should not think of this period as some kind of Renaissance after the Ice Age. The ice began receding 20,000 years ago. Progress that left tangible traces for archaeologists (and us) to recognize didn’t really begin until about 10,000 years ago.
By the time of Jesus Christ, the Romans had a form of modern government and industrial solutions to production and distribution. That the Roman monopoly grew corrupt and collapsed—interrupting the progress for a thousand years of zero growth in population and wealth—proves nothing except the fragility of man-made constructs, be they physical or intellectual. Man is slow to recognize that he rules only within boundaries. When he recognizes those boundaries, he progresses. When he doesn’t, and indulges in hubris, he suffers.
From our previous studies, we’ve seen that the agricultural revolution in the Fertile Crescent freed men from bondage to the endless subsistence of hunting and gathering by producing a superabundance of food. This freed up an increasing portion of the population to specialize in non-farm labor such as crafts, construction, metallurgy, machines, worship, art, food preparation, distribution, and trading. Ceteris paribus, man’s progress appears unstoppable. He comes to pride himself in his ability. Then, all of a sudden, man hits an insuperable obstacle, is downsized, repents, and restarts.
We see various models of communal living in the beginning of this era, searching for efficient new forms of living in dense populations. Over the past ten thousand years, the new phenomena of city-living evolved to what we’d now recognize.
Artist’s reconstruction of Çatalhöyük. Credit.
Çatalhöyük(7500-5700 BC). In the above picture of the Çatalhöyük settlement in Anatolia, which thrived through the Neolithic into the early Chalcolithic, the architecture resembles nothing so much as a beehive. Houses were surrounded on four sides by the walls of adjoining neighbors. Fresh air and exiting smoke passed through the hatches out the ceilings. The interiors were plastered. People walked about town on what is similar to a massive penthouse roof. When a room or dwelling became unserviceable, it was knocked down, the old material was used as the foundation for the new walls and roof, and so the “penthouse” roof grew unevenly. Awkward as that may seem, the construction model served them for nearly 2,000 years. For its time, it was a formidable fortress against external attack, with every outer home serving as a facsimile of a section in a casement wall, and the defenders having a distinct height advantage from the roof. (For more context on the wider cultural movement involving Catalhoyuk. see our prior post 39.)
Individual family living conditions had improved from the tents of the hunter gatherers to the rudimentary beehive architecture of Çatalhöyük, certainly in the safety in numbers and in the fortress-like village. By 4,000 BC, city defenses further improved with thick city walls and towers, and personal privacy improved with standalone dwellings, stout front doors, and roof patios. These developments occurred throughout the Fertile Crescent and further east in the Indus Valley civilization.
The author in a city wall tower at Arad, with the Negev Desert beyond.
Arad (4000-2700 BC). I’ve walked the streets of Chalcolithic Arad in the Negev Desert. This city was built in wetter times during the 4th millennium B.C. Rather than today’s desert, the surrounding Negev was still drying after the Neolithic Subpluvial 5,300 years ago, and might best be described then as an arid savannah, much like we find on the east (downwind) side of the Rocky Mountains and in the Maasai Mara game preserve in Kenya. Construction is in stone, with doors facing streets, courtyards, or alleys. In the photo above, I’m standing in one of the towers that are spaced along the city’s defensive wall. This is only the base of the tower, which stood higher than the wall. Arad was built in the early and destroyed in the late 4th millennium B.C. It was rebuilt and destroyed forever in the early 3rd millennium B.C.
While there, I photographed the golden jackal which heads each page of this website as it stood atop Arad’s wall. I took a series of pictures of the jackal after spotting him in Arad’s Canaanite temple, and he retreated to the wall and took this last look back at me. My last photo has his backside showing as he started his leap down into the Negev on the far side of the wall. The photo is taken with a maxed out telephoto at about 1,000 feet. The Egyptians represented their god of the netherworld as a jackal named Anubis.
Artist’s reconstruction of Chalcolithic Uruk. Credit
Uruk (4000 BC to 700 AD). Above is an artist’s rendition of Uruk Period (4000-3100 BC) houses with cutaways (like x-ray vision through the walls) to reveal the interiors. In the left bottom corner, we see a couple of men eating on their roof under an awning, with ladder access. In the lower right corner, we see a woman in a second story room weaving a cloth or rug, and two guys atop the roof above her pointing across the city, beside a hard-roofed shelter with a yellow awning. Through the artist’s cutaway at street level, we see a woman working on her knees and various other everyday scenes through cutouts in other buildings. City and village architecture would be similar to this illustration throughout Southern Mesopotamia during the Uruk Period, including at Susa, Ur, and Eshnunna.
Artist’s reconstruction of the city of Harappa, it’s gate, and sewer drainage. Credit.
Harappa (2600-1900 BC). The Chalcolithic Harappans certainly improved on Çatalhöyük’s housing model, using windows, vertical doors, alleys and streets, and made good use of ceramics in constructing sewage disposal—but Harappan architecture appeared a staggering 3,000 years later than Çatalhöyük, around the time of dynastic governments throughout the Fertile Crescent. In the above picture, You see a home in the lower left corner, the sewage channel in the middle, a woman carrying a basket on the path to the right of the sewage channel, and homes and shops beyond. This architecture has only advanced in minor details through the following four millennia up to the present (e.g. sewage channels—if any—below ground in pipes), as can be seen in villages throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Africa.
For more contextual insight into Harappa, insert “Indus Valley” in the Search Button in the upper right hand corner and you will receive links to our series of posts 33 to 37 plus other posts mentioning the subject.
In the next post, we’ll continue examining Southern Mesopotamia in 3300 BC.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke